Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Parting Shot of 2009

The final gift of 2009 is...FULL BODY SCANNERS AT AIRPORTS! Here are a few comments on that lovely new development.

For those who would say, "Anything to make us safe," enjoy the New Totalitarianism. Stalin, Hitler, Amin, Ceauşescu, et al would be proud. Go kiss their headstones and don't spare the drool.

Do you really want to see Grandma's and Grandpa's naughty bits? Think about that next time you leer at the x-ray machine, chumps.

How much is this gonna cost us?

If the airlines and TSA want to go one step further, there's always Naked Air. No clothes, no using the restroom, no carry-ons, just you in your birthday suit. Of course, they may need to lower their prices to get people on board. My only questions are, how nude will the pilots and flight attendants be? And will they hand out those hospital gowns or at least fig leaves as passengers deplane? All food for thought, except there will be no food on the prison, I mean plane.

At times like these someone always brings up El Al and their incredible efficiency. Maybe we could learn from them instead of just blindly reacting.

Wouldn't it be ironic if Big Pharma was in bed with the creators of those radiation-producing scanners to generate more patients? Any industry that profits from human misery is bound to come to a bad end, mark my words. Not accusing anyone, I'm just sayin'.

Here's a thought: I wish you all a flight-free 2010! That's why we have trains, cars, phones, teleconferencing and the Internet. Gee, UAL, so sorry about the precipitous drop in your stock price!

I'm outta here, in a virtual way.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Gift from the Language Curmudgeon

There is a difference between your and you’re. When someone writes, “Your welcome,” it turns the adjective welcome into a noun. So, my welcome what???

Don’t get me started on its and it’s. It’s means it is. Its is a possessive pronoun. I see an awful lot of it’s where I should be seeing its. Writers, please, before you throw down a superfluous apostrophe, substitute it is for whatever you’re referring to. An example, “The bull lost it’s horns,” would translate as “The bull lost it is horns.” Heinous!

Their does not mean the same thing as there or they're. Their is a possessive plural pronoun, as in “It’s their car, not yours.” There indicates a place. They're means "they are". If I had a nickel for every time I saw the word their instead of there or they're and vice versa, I’d be able to buy myself a ticket to Vegas and lose all the left over nickels there in one of their slot machines, then slam the machines until they're busted.

How about doing some proofing so you don’t leave off the last “o” in “too” when you want to express excess? "To much corn?" No, that means “toward much corn”. Doesn’t make sense to me, either.

The word I gets a lot of misuse. You hear “between you and I” all the time, but you should never hear it. The trick is to split it up, say: Between you and the light post. OK. Between I and the light post. Not OK.

Parting present:
A special dispensation is granted to non-politicians who mix up Slovakia and Slovenia. But if you want to impress people with your knowledge of countries having under 7 million inhabitants, Slovakia is the eastern third of what used to be Czechoslovakia. Slovenia was part of former Yugoslavia. In Slovakia you hear čardášes. In Slovenia, it’s waltzes and polkas. Ready for Slavic 2.0? All Slovaks are Slavs, but not all Slavs are Slovaks. Extra credit: the Baltics are Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The Balkans are Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Albania. The Serbs are from Serbia, making them Balkan people. The Sorbs are the smallest ethnic minority in Europe, located in Eastern Germany. Therefore, the Sorbs are Central Europeans. That may have been Too Much Information, but it's my gift to you. Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukkah, Kick-*ss Kwanzaa, Super Solstice, G'bye, Peace.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Suspicious Aloysius

A couple days ago I received a phone call from a gentleman representing an alleged firefighters’ organization allegedly soliciting contributions to assist burned children. He went on and on, and I let him gab. He got to the part in his script about, “We don’t take credit cards over the phone but we’ll send you out a packet of information and you can make a $20 donation.”

It’s fortunate they don’t take credit cards over the phone, because I wasn’t about to give him my credit card number over the phone anyway. I wasn’t that interested in giving him my address to send the [alleged] info packet either, although he probably already had it, it since he had my phone number.

My vibes told me something wasn't quite right about the man's spiel. I informed him that although I was unable to make a monetary contribution at this time, I was willing to donate my time by going to the [alleged] hospital where these [alleged] burned children were and doing a half-hour accordion program for them.

The guy got all confused. “Uh,” he stammered, “my supervisor doesn’t allow me to, uh, take that information, but there’s a number you can call…”

“And that number is…?”

Hastily: “I’ll call you right back with it.”

I’m still waiting.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A typical Sunday night rant, in 3 raving parts

Dedicated to Bridget A., whose birthday is today.

Part I: I’m Not Cultured, I Just Like Classical Music

When the local classical radio station plays an excerpt from Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, it’s almost always La ci darem la mano, the duet between the Don and Zerlina. On Tuesday, November 10th, the station played all Mozart all day long. I wasn’t able to listen every minute, but within a couple hours they played that duet twice. Here are some excerpts from Don Giovanni that I prefer to the duet, and the number of times I heard them in the same two-hour time frame:
The Overture: ZERO
Ah, fuggi il traditor, Donna Elvira’s aria: ZERO
Fin ch’han dal vino, Don Giovanni’s aria: ZERO
Il mio tesoro, Don Ottavio’s aria: ZERO
Madamina…, Leporello’s “Catalogue” aria: ZERO
Batti, batti…, Zerlina’s aria: ZERO
The powers that be at a classical radio station ought to know that there's more to Don Giovanni than a 3-minute duet. Drop the needle somewhere else, please!

Part II: Not Everybody Who Takes Public Transportation Is Deaf

Why do the announcements on the CTA and Metra have to be so stentorian? We’re not all deaf, we don’t all have iPod ear-buds in, and we’re sick of being bombarded with high-decibel warnings such as, “Please be considerate when talking on the phone and listening to electronic devices,” when we’re trying to read the paper. Earth to Clueless Noise Operator: Those announcements are louder than a boombox, which happens to be an electronic device.

Part III: Can We Have A Break From:

Any mention of the Middle East and their problems. Either report something good coming out of there or shut up. We’re sick of hearing about people who get their jollies by hurting others.

“10 Top Interviewing Tips”. When is the last time you or any other unemployed person ever got as far as an interview in this economy? Only one tip is valid: Be a friend of someone at a company that’s hiring.

Blaming a peripheral matter for a larger problem, such as banning short-term condo rentals because a smart young man was killed outside of one, outlawing little plastic Ziploc bags because some numbskull put some dope in one, or doing away with beauty pageants because of the JonBenet Ramsey tragedy. Yeah, I know, the last one will never happen; too much money to be made. But it’s an example of what could ensue if the lawmakers don’t make like the Scarecrow and get a brain. Next up to be banned: anal suppositories because some stuffed shirt slipped on one while jaywalking across Michigan Avenue to his office. Get what I mean?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Another Babyish Killer Strikes Again

What makes male gang members so delicate? Possibly the fact that many grew up without fathers, so there was nobody around to show them how to be men. Whatever the reason, and I’m sure it varies from delicate flower to delicate flower, it doesn’t make things any easier for those who are forced to deal with the consequences of their hurt feelings. I have ranted on this subject before, but with yet another senseless murder of a young, male, up-and-coming college student with an impressive reputation, it’s time to scream again. Francisco (Frankie) Valencia, a 21-year old senior at DePaul University, was struck down by the bullet of a gun wielded by a creampuff gang member who couldn’t deal with the fact that he had been asked to leave a party he crashed.

This creampuff (who I am not naming because he doesn’t deserve the publicity) apparently never learned to handle his emotions. The reason he shot Valencia, as reported in the newspapers, is that he was upset because he and two friends had been kicked out of a party that they hadn’t been invited to in the first place. You can call it a “revenge” killing, but that isn’t what it is, really. It’s a crybaby killing. Gang members are notorious for these crybaby murders – “So-and-so disrespected me, so I offed him,” – and maybe it’s time that we sent them back to finishing school for thumb-suckers. In the mean time, here are a few pointers for these rod-toting sissies:

1. Everyone has had the experience of not being invited to a party. The reasons vary from oversight to deliberate omission. Whatever the reason, most of us get on with our lives afterward. Next time you’re out shopping, buy yourself a thicker skin.

2. Jesus said, “Turn the other cheek” for a good reason. It takes all the fun out of being an a**hole. Try it some time, just for laughs.

3. Women outnumber men on this planet. If someone steals your girlfriend, don’t shoot him. Go get another girlfriend. Really, it isn’t that hard. And if your woman was ‘stolen’ she wasn’t that into you in the first place.

4. Grow the hell up. Real men don’t need to settle scores by killing each other. That’s baby stuff. There are plenty of ways to get even with someone that don’t involve a lot of bloodshed, destroyed families and funerals.

5. The gang is a tribal construct, but our world is global now, not tribal. It’s time to look beyond the tribe and see that it’s a big world out there. Whether you kill someone outside the tribe (acceptable in babyish societies) or within the tribe (taboo everywhere), you’re still a killer. That isn’t going to get you invited to a lot of parties (see #1).

6. Anyone who is born into a fatherless, poverty-stricken family comes into life with a lot of courage. This means you. Harness the energy and courage you were born with. There are many ways to do this. Teach someone English or a foreign language. Pick up garbage in your neighborhood. Volunteer at a refugee center. Experiment with cooking. Read a book. Practice writing diatribes without using any swear words, and send them to the papers. Play sports. If nobody wants you on their team, there's always track or gymnastics.

7. If you can’t shake off the urge to kill, join the military. At best, you’ll get some free schooling and food and it will make you more disciplined and responsible. At worst, it will make you a better killer. Society is ticked off enough with you to take that chance.

You don’t have to remain a delicate pansy all your life. It’s up to you. Ultimately, the most valuable respect is self-respect.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

SEX!!! Made you look.

How about a little ranting about the David Letterman Affair(s)?

The dude had some sex. Guys like sex. Women like sex. We all like sex. We also know that guys are inherently polygamous and women are inherently monogamous. So, to generalize, guys like sex with a variety of women, while women prefer to stick with one guy. Many guys grit their teeth and adhere to our society’s unrealistic expectations that they remain with one partner and others will do as they please, sexwise. This is why, even though women have been kept in positions of submission for much of history beginning with the Age of Aries (a couple thousand or so years before Christ), we are less pressured, sexwise. We aren’t as a rule driven, either by society or by our own hormones, to try to have sex with as many partners as possible.

However, guys are. Society not only excuses men’s “conquests”, it encourages them. Different occupations are held to different standards. Catholic priests are supposed to be indifferent to sex. Sports stars are expected to join the screw-a-thon early on. We expect conservatives to publicly scorn sex while sneaking thrills in the pissoir or a seedy hotel room; liberals are subjected to the usual eye-rolls when they let it all hang out. Famous people are analyzed and reported on in detail when they are caught or suspected of having any kind of sex – even marital – but if your mailman is shagging a sheep on his day off, who cares.

So, bearing all this in mind, do I judge David Letterman for having sex post-marriage with staff members? Can’t do it. For 99% of men, saying no thanks to an opportunity to have sex is like walking past a $50 bill lying on the sidewalk. We all know this, but for politeness’ sake we pretend we don’t, or that men can "change". Yes, there are exceptional partnered men who will turn down these opportunities because their brains kick in before the hormones make it through the bloodstream, but that's why we call them exceptional. It's not the favored scenario, but it might avoid a lot of stress and unnecessary drama if society accepted the fact that dudes are more alike than they are different. The mailman and Letterman both enjoy a roll in the hay.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A One-Note Day

Have you ever noticed that there is a single theme running through your day? I had a day like that recently and the theme was my first instrument, the piano.

Early in the morning, a pianist approached me as I was busking at the Evanston Farmers’ Market. He asked if I had ever heard any Janáček piano music played on the accordion. I could imagine his Lachian Dances on the accordion, but no, I had never heard them played that way. Then we got into a conversation about Lachian vs. Valachian vs. Bohemian music and I guess he was sufficiently convinced that I was knowledgeable about the subject because he bought one of my Czech/Slovak CDs, even after I warned him that the music on it was nothing like Janáček’s.

After I was done playing at the market, I drove to Chicago's north side Lakewood-Balmoral neighborhood to cruise their yard sales. There is a program on our local classical station called Introductions, which I rarely listen to. I don't like it. But on this particular day I turned it on and left it on. I was rewarded with a workmanship-like student's rendition of Chopin's Ballade in A-flat, op. 47. For a Chopin junkie, this was like finding a wallet stuffed with bills sans ID on the sidewalk. Chopin wrote four Ballades: G-minor, op. 23; F-major, op. 38; the A-flat, op. 47 and F-minor, op. 52. Of the four, the A-flat is least often played, but it is my favorite (although one could argue that the F-minor is a more masterful composition).

Later on at a yard sale, I spied a 1959 program book from one of Artur Rubinstein’s concerts. He was my childhood hero, a Polish pianist who played Chopin with grace, sensitivity and technical prowess, but without mawkish sentimentality. It was only $1 so I grabbed it.

I mentioned that I was a Chopin junkie, which was true when I was a kid. In high school I discovered Dvořák, Rimsky-Korsakoff, Poulenc, Mozart, Debussy, and in college, the greatest of them all, Johann Sebastian Bach. But for about five years, it was all Chopin, all the time. So I was thrilled to find a recent DVD about Chopin, called Pragnienie miłości (Desire for Love) at another yard sale. I considered it overpriced at $3, but I bought it anyway. For those not familiar with classical music, Chopin composed almost exclusively for the piano.

When I got home, I watched the movie. It was maudlin, and, if I were to give it a musical designation, it would be Andantino sappioso con molto saccharino. I detest cheap sentiment and the movie had it, in spades. But there was one scene that made me sit up, pump my fist and yell, “Yessssss!” During this scene, Chopin hears his valet Jan playing an *oberek on his fiddle. He immediately asks Jan to play it over, and he notates it as Jan plays. I’ve done that! I’ve been there! The most frustrating thing is hearing a great tune but not having either staff paper or a recording device handy. I can remember hurriedly scribbling five lines on a piece of scrap paper so I could take dictation on a song someone was singing. During the scene Chopin expands the little oberek on the piano and it morphs into his Mazurka in D major, op. 33 no. 1.

My accordion replaced the piano long ago but this day with its piano theme reminded me that if I hadn’t started playing the piano when I was five, I probably wouldn’t have developed the skills to learn to play the accordion in six months. Have any of you ever had a day like that?

*An oberek is a lively Polish dance in 3/8 time.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Tollway Adventure

I admit it: I can be a very annoying person. For the reader’s edification, I will now dissect one particularly irksome aspect of my personality and trace an infuriating habit back to its source.

I refuse to buy an I-pass. For those of you who live outside Illinois, an I-pass is a transponder which allows you to drive on the tollway without stopping. In order to buy an I-pass, you have to submit your credit card number so funds can be charged to it, and you also have to give them your driver’s license number. The Cynic-At-Large smelled a burgeoning surveillance tactic, so I said no thanks. They didn't have I-passes when the following incident occured, and if it had not happened I may not have awakened my Inner Cynic in the first place and bought the darn I-pass.

Several years ago, as I was stopped at an automatic toll booth I threw in the required amount of money but the gate wouldn’t rise, even when I treated the receptacle to a few extra, undeserved coins. I had to back up, go to a manned booth two lanes over and explain to the agent that I put my money in but it wasn’t registering and the gate stayed down. The amount at the time was $.50. The agent all but accused me of lying, saying, “How do I know you put the money in? You can't prove it.”


Like I was going to go to all that trouble for 50 cents. On the other hand, I was stuck and I needed to get where I was going before Alzheimer’s set in.

So I gave the jerk five dimes and demanded a receipt.

Now when I drive on the tollway, I always go to a manned booth, pay my tolls in nickels and dimes, and ask for a receipt, just in case The Man isn't absolutely positive I paid.

Just wanted to explain why you're stuck behind my car on the tollway. Now you know.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pay it Forward!

Pay it Forward. It’s the title of a forgettable movie starring an irritating kid whom the studio tried to make precious and cute, and failed. However, the fact that I couldn’t sit through the entire film in no way negates the message. The idea of “pay it forward” is valid and I was its recipient, then donor. Here’s the story.

A couple weeks ago I stopped in at one of my favorite second-hand stores, Someone’s Treasure at 5604 W. Belmont Ave. in Chicago. If you want to call them to ask if they have that chartreuse sweater or black bowler hat you’ve been searching for, their phone number is 773-481-5911. They’re a fairly new business, opened in the last couple years or so. The place is neatly arranged, items are tastefully displayed and everything is immaculate. The place is filled with good vibes. The owners are the kind of people you would hope will succeed: intelligent, amiable and helpful.

I found a beautiful green vase decorated with gold trim and pink ceramic flowers. It matches some glassware that I bought years ago in Slovakia. Someone's Treasure was having a 30% off sale, and that vase, easily worth $50, was marked at $3.85 (plus Chicago's hideous 10.25% sales tax). I grabbed it. As I paid, I was digging through my change looking for a quarter. The woman behind me slapped a quarter on the counter. “Here.” The Cynic At Large joked with a smile, “You must really want me out of here!” “No,” replied the kind lady, “pay it forward.”


The opportunity arose a week later. A loyal patron of the restaurant I play at, Klas in Cicero, had planned to have his birthday celebration there on the following Sunday. He asked if I would be playing that day and I said no, I wasn’t scheduled. He was obviously disappointed, but after he left I began thinking about “paying it forward.” I checked my calendar for the date and time of his party; I had nothing else to do that evening except watch The Simpsons.


However, when I weighed the pros for the party: nice guy, good customer, always thanks me for playing his favorite tunes; against the con: missing two Simpsons episodes I had already seen, Klas won the battle. Without mentioning it to anyone but the manager, I scheduled myself to play for the party. Even though it was not to be a paid performance (like all professional musicians I charge a fee to play for parties), in the long run it wouldn’t make me or break me to "pay it forward" this one time.

I showed up about 10 minutes before the party and surprised the gentleman with “Happy Birthday” as he and his family walked in. I played all his favorite songs and got plenty of applause. But the cherry on top of the soda was that somebody tipped me a C-note!


So, did "pay it forward" ultimately result in a big tip? Not exactly. The idea behind "pay it forward" is that someone knows you did something nice, so they do something nice and it becomes a domino effect of good deeds. Sort of like a chain e-mail, but without the accompanying emotions of fear and greed. If I hadn’t been inspired by the nice lady who parted with that quarter out of her own kindness, I may not have thought of volunteering to play for the party. However, the diners at the party didn't know that I was volunteering; for all they knew I was being paid by the restaurant. So the tip itself was really more an example of "what comes around, goes around" (see my earlier post about the Silver Certificate: http://psychicaccordionist.blogspot.com/2009/04/what-goes-aound.html). For a good deed to continue the "pay it forward" chain, someone would have to be aware that it was a gift.

Whatever. I'm still glad I stopped in at Someone's Treasure. At the least, I got a valuable piece of glassware, a good story to tell, and I took advantage of the opportunity to "pay it forward" - albeit semi-anonymously - myself.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Road Rage on the Lovely North Side

One forum where annoyed drivers, pedestrians and bikers can kvetch with impunity is Platewire (http://www.platewire.com/). I registered with them a couple years ago so I could vent about the behemoth in the SUV who road-raged me on Berteau Street when I dared bike the right way down a one-way street rather than taking a wider (but wrong-way) side street, or sissying along the sidewalk. That’s all ancient history and that huge blob with the purple face and the big pulsating vein in his neck is probably all dead and buried by now. There was another incident this morning so I crashed their site again and hastily put it on. They warned us posters that we had only 20 minutes to come up with our masterpieces, otherwise we’d have to log in again.

Not wanting to have to remember my password (“Is it ‘swordfish’?”) a second time, I decided to cover my bases by posting an additional and twice as sizzling rant right here.

It was 7:44 a.m. and I had just crossed Keeler Avenue northbound at Irving Park Road. It’s not a nice intersection. This is where the Kennedy Expressway feeder ramp is, and if you don’t mind your P’s and Q’s you could end up an ex-human. Getting across Irving and past the diagonal lane that feeds into Keeler just north of Irving is cause to make sure you’re wearing a helmet and your will is up to date.

So here I am, carefully making my way down a short but nasty stretch of Keeler, and there, right in the diagonal, blocking my access to safely cross the street was Mister X61 9421. Normally I would not post the license plate of an offender, but he was committing – in my opinion – the Number One Sin of the road. He. Was. On. A. Hand. Held. Cell. Phone. While driving. At a dangerous intersection. He was so engrossed in his call he didn’t notice that there were about three feet of space behind him into which he could have safely backed up, thus allowing me more than the sliver of bumpy road, broken glass and pigeon droppings in which to maneuver my bike between him and the passing cars on Keeler.

I got off my bike and slowly walked it right in front of him. I don’t think he noticed me giving him a pointed look, then giving his license plate a pointed look. Then back to him, then again peering at his license plate and writing in a notebook with a very serious expression on my face.

So, Mister X61 9421, what was so gosh-darned important? What were you blabbing about on that phone of yours before 8 a.m.? Lindsay Lohan’s latest romance? Joan vs. Bette? Boxers or briefs? Were you using that phone as an emotional outlet when you should have been paying attention to the road? I’ll tell you what, Mister X61 9421, Joan vs. Bette or that can’t-wait business deal just doesn’t seem so important when some kid’s body is flying up against your windshield.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Meters in a Strip Mall? Tres Chic!

I recently observed that parking meters have been installed in a strip mall in Chicago. The location: the south side of Lawrence Avenue at Oakley. This mall is home to a video store, a pizza joint, a Bosnian restaurant, a convenience store and a nail salon along with a couple other small establishments. A dollar store used to anchor the place, but it’s gone now. There’s a huge “For Rent” sign that has “DESPERATE” written all over it.

Gee, ya think drivers are going to patronize those businesses if they have to fork over a quarter for every 15 minutes? What about those talons that aren’t quite dry when the meter runs out? Are your claws worth a $50 ticket? That’s $10 a nail, not counting fees and tips. I don’t know, I’d rather paint my nails myself or get them done someplace I can walk or bike to.

The point of strip malls is that sure, they’re ugly, but they’re convenient. You eat lunch at the Bosnian restaurant, then stop in next door for a manicure. Then you notice the video store, and you just gotta have the latest version of Jackass, so you go and spend a few bucks there. All of this commerce supposedly takes place while you’re not obsessing about how many seconds are left on your parking meter.

BTW, here's an excellent blog you should visit to get valuable info on this subject: http://theexpiredmeter.com/

If you live within walking distance, a strip mall is just another blight on your ’hood. At least it’s not as offensive as gang tags on light poles and overflowing garbage cans. But if you come from some distance away and have to drive, you take a look at those meters and move on. Nothing to see here, folks.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Recently the rates on Chicago’s parking meters were jacked up and new meters were installed where previously there had been none. Most citizens are not pleased with this exciting new development and some of the more cynical residents of this great city suspect that there must be secret plans to funnel the anticipated increased revenue into an Olympics-related slush fund.

Over the last 20 years, finding free, legal parking in Chicago has gradually become akin to locating a website without pop-up ads. Since permit parking zones were first instituted decades ago, they have become a cancer, metastasizing throughout Chicago's neighborhoods. This writer has no issue with such zones, as long as 1) there is a preponderance of senior citizens and/or handicapped individuals who need to park close to their homes and 2) more than three quarters of the housing stock is apartment buildings without garages. However, you can now find permit parking on streets occupied by mainly single-family homes with garages. Don’t whine that restricted parking is needed because there’s shopping nearby, or a train station, or a Dairy Queen. These permit parking zones are not necessary. The aldermen simper, “But more than 50% of our residents want them.” Aldermen – and women – get a clue. If more than 50% of your children asked to be served ice cream for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert, would you cede to their wishes? Sometimes you have to be smarter than your constituents and this is one of those times. Using garages for the purpose for which they were originally designed will solve the problem of residents not being able to find parking. Not meaning to insinuate that many garages are so full of crap that getting a car in there is harder than pulling a camel through the eye of a needle, of course.

That is my rant about permit parking, and it may be recycled later in this blog. For now, I would like to offer a nightmarish scenario as to where Chicago seems to be headed, getting-around-wise.

Now that LAZ Parking has done such a brilliant job of taking over our parking meters, let’s figure out some other ways to inconvenience and stealth-tax our drivers. How about installing 24-hour meters on the residential side streets, in the alleys and on the shoulders of the expressways. Those neighborhoods that are too blighted to merit meters (and where the installers would likely get mugged trying) can be permit parking only. Make sure that there is a hefty fee for the yearly – make that monthly – permit that the residents can’t afford.

Now that all streets are either metered or permit, let’s tackle the private garages. To enter his or her garage, an owner will be required to deposit a $10 bill, which will then be whisked into a secret Olympics 2016 fund. To exit the garage, come up with another $10. Stopping with drivers is for sissies. To make sure as many people are inconvenienced as possible, slash service on the CTA. Cut bus routes and hours of operation, and don’t forget to raise fares. To obtain one of those convenient “Chicago Cards”, require citizens to submit their Social Security Numbers and all bank/brokerage/credit card account info. Then eliminate payment by cash or regular fare card.

Let’s start licensing bike riders. The fees from all those licenses will help fund a new Olympic event, the “pothole slalom” and before you can say “Lance Armstrong” it’ll cost you to get around by bike. Finally, don’t spare the pedestrians. Set up a toll booth at every intersection. To cross any street, charge a toll of $5 per leg. To show that this is really a compassionate city, give any amputees a 5% discount, but make it exact change only, otherwise no deal.

If considering the above makes you crave copious quantities of alcohol, look on the bright side. Thousands of jobs in surveillance, security and law enforcement will be created. And won't it impress the Olympic Committee to be able to claim that our unemployment rate has gone from 10% to less than 3%?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Beccah, Ditch That H!

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the story in today’s Chicago Tribune about the young lady from Mokena, Illinois, Beccah Beushausen, who blogged her way to fame on a mostly made-up story about being pregnant with a terminally ill child who died soon after birth. I never had the pleasure of reading her blog and today was the first I heard of it. It was followed by thousands of pro-lifers eager for affirmation of their beliefs, and it drives home an important point: don’t believe everything you read, even if it agrees with you! That goes for us pro-choicers too.

Trust, but verify.

Having said that, I have to hand it to her. She is apparently a terrific writer who knows how to push emotional buttons. That is one thing I have never been able to do. I can tell a story, but I can’t sap it up and any excess emotion gets tempered with a little comedy thrown in. I also have a very hard time making up stuff. You could say that I have a dearth of imagination when it comes to generating sentiment. Go back and read the story “A Tale of Two Babies” earlier in this blog. Every fact in that story was corroborated, verified and approved by the mothers of the babies before I hit that “publish” button.

Beccah (and if I were her, I’d get rid of that superfluous h at the end of her name, since in Jewish tradition H is the childbearing letter and she misused it, whether she’s Jewish or not) has some choices. She can channel all that writing talent into cranking out a couple novels. That’s a positive use of her gift. Or she can appear on Oprah and The View and apologize over and over, telling, re-telling and crystalizing her sad story. Not so positive. Of course, the visual appearances would be more lucrative and less hard work. And money, especially easy money, is one thing we can all use.

Or she can fade into oblivion, having experienced her proverbial 15 minutes of shame.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Take My Money...Please!

I’m starting to look forward to the next telemarketer who asks me for money or the next business that tries to push unwanted services in my direction. Since I got rid of Caller ID, I’ve been picking up the phone more often. If it rings between 6 and 9 p.m. there’s a good chance it’s a charity, arts organization or semi-legitimate business hoping to make a hole in my pocket.

Charities and arts organizations aren’t too bad and I would consider sending them a few bucks if I had their assurance that my name and phone number wouldn’t end up on the mailing and calling lists of every other worthy cause in the nation. And in fact, I donate regularly to Purple Hearts and am pretty much a soft touch for anything veteran-related, especially when it involves contributing goods instead of money.


I am a Suspicious Aloysius when it comes to people trying to sell me services I don’t need or trying to guilt me into parting with my money. Some of the most aggressive telemarketers are those folks who call on behalf of police functions. When I politely informed the caller that I donated through my employment and my church and had made all my donations for the year, he questioned me. “You don’t support law enforcement?” I roared back with the equivalent of “I’ll enforce YOU!” and asked for his name and his supervisor’s name. He backed off, a wounded and chastened cur slinking off into telespace, phone between his legs.

Another opportunity arose the other day when I contacted a tech provider to get some over-the-phone help. The assistant I got was more interested in selling me services I didn’t want or need than actually helping me to solve the problem. I politely refused one such service, repeating at least three times that I didn’t have the budget for it. But if I had the presence of mind, the conversation would have gone more like this:

Tech Dude: This service is very inexpensive, it’s less than $11 a month!

Me: Sorry, but it’s not in my budget.

Tech Dude: For only $10.95 a month you can have this service!

Me: You wanna repeat my last sentence?

Tech Dude: But it’s only $10.95 a month! That’s less than a tank of gas!

Me: Since you think it’s so necessary that I have this service and you feel it’s so inexpensive, am I to infer that you are willing to personally pay for it so that I can have it?

Tech Dude: [silence]

And that is what the next phone-beggar will get from me. If it’s that important to you that I buy your service or make a donation for which I have no budget, I will turn the tables and ask you for the money.

Bring it on.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Diving Into a Pool of Estrogen

Pssst, nice lonely straight guys! Want to know where to meet some wimmin? That’s right, I wrote wimmin. I can tell you where to find them, but you’ll have to go with an open mind. Before you bail out, I should tell you that these wimmin are for the most part intelligent, good-looking, ethical and financially secure!

Sonia Choquette, a world-famous author, teacher and intuitive, also known as a psychic, is one of today’s most dynamic leaders, guiding humanity to operate from a perspective of inclusion rather than exclusion, love rather than fear, and knowledge rather than ignorance. I have read and re-read all 14 of her books and I have taken classes with her over the past 10 years. Her techniques and workshops are in demand all over the planet because they work. I can testify. Thanks to my studies with Sonia I have been able to forgive people I had previously held grudges against, attract miracles such as a trip to Romania, buy a condo, and then sell it at a profit to buy a house. See her website here, http://www.trustyourvibes.com/.

Whenever I attend one of her events I accurately forecast one thing about it without any psychic skills: the ratio of females to males will be about 15 to 1. The ratio of females to straight males is more like 25 to 1. These events are always sold out. They packed us in like sardines at the one I was at last night, 115 people in a room designed to comfortably hold about 50. And, as I predicted, there were about seven guys in the room. I think one of them was a movie star. The claustrophobic atmosphere faded as soon as Sonia started speaking. She discussed scientific phenomena as she gave us instructions on how to honor our spirits and support the six-sensory life. She spoke of courage, mental clarity, wisdom and the importance of allowing one’s self to play the fool. At the end we were all milling around talking excitedly to one another, whether we had been introduced or not. It would have been the perfect opportunity to meet a potential sweetheart, because there were no pokers up anybody’s butts!

Nice guys, I know there are many on-line sites where you can search for a girlfriend while wearing holey sweats, comfortably scratching under your arms, picking your nose, drinking a beer and belching noisily. However, for adventurous dudes, I suggest the physical approach. Grit your teeth, open your mind, put on your bright red underwear and drag your carcass to one of Sonia’s events. Trust me, the competition will be sparse. If you hose yourself off, put on some clean clothes, maybe a little after-shave, and keep your eyes and heart open you have a good chance of being the Alpha Male in the room!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Job Creation in the Age of Unemployment

With all the news about recession, unemployment and dearth of job creation these days I thought I would weigh in with a job that needs to be created, pronto. The requirements: must be familiar with the English language, have a sense of subject, verb and direct object, and able to state an idea in less than 20 words. The job: rewriting those “customer agreements” that are sent with your credit card statement and utility bills.

Who reads those “agreements”? Well, I do. And here is a sentence buried in the fine print in section 8, letter a, on page 4 of one such agreement.

Therefore, except as set forth in Subsection 8b below, your monetary remedy for loss or damage caused by the provision, operation, or use of any Services or for the delay, malfunction, or partial or total failure of any Services, including such loss or damage caused by [XYZ Company’s] negligence, shall not exceed the credit specified in the applicable Tariff or Guidebook, or, if no credits are specified, shall not exceed the amount of the malfunction, or failure (except to the extent additional monetary remedies are provided for in Section 9).

Here is my translation:

So, if you are an idiot and use your phone to bean your mother-in-law over the head, we won’t buy you another one. Also, if one of our technicians totally effs up your wires, you are screwed. Suck it up.

These “service agreements” – and I can think of two things wrong with that description – are total bull manure. With all the laid-off attorneys these days jonesing for things to do with all that dormant talent, the credit card companies and utilities might want to think about cultivating an attitude of nervousness. For starters, these verbose, badly written directives discriminate against our large immigrant population, much of which is not familiar with the ins and outs of American legalese. Last time I checked, discrimination was more than bad manners; it was against the law. Let’s get a few attorneys named Hernandez, Szczęśniewski, Dizdarević and Abdelkadiri to start needling The Man.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Getting The Buddha Drunk

Those of you who are familiar with this blog know that my younger brother is The Buddha. He was my “little” brother until he surpassed me in height. There were very few girls in our family. I had two younger brothers and scads of younger boy cousins. I never let anyone kiss me or pinch my cheeks, but I was always conniving to kiss The Buddha and all the cute baby cousins as soon as they got born. They tolerated it for a while, then rebelled. But I was bigger and stronger and, as The Buddha once complained to a friend, “She kissed my cheeks until they were prune.” The older he got, the harder it was to get my claws on those succulent cheeks. He was at the height of his adorability when he was five and I was 10 and that’s when I brought out the big guns.

My parents didn’t drink alcohol very often, but every Christmas Eve we had a huge party for relatives and close friends. Wine was served. I never tasted it but knew that if you drank liquor it made you something called “drunk” and it messed with your judgment, rendering you pliable. I formulated my evil plan during Christmas Eve, 1967 and when my parents were occupied with conversation, I walked The Buddha around our 6-room apartment giving him leftover wine to drink from all the glasses I could find. It didn’t amount to much, but when we had reached the kitchen at the back of the apartment, I informed him, “Now you’re drunk and you have to let me kiss you 50 times.” To my delight, he said flatly, “OK.” So I got in my 50 kisses.

Many years later I told him I was sorry for all the torture and those 50 kisses on Christmas Eve, 1967. “I wasn’t really drunk,” he admitted, “I just wanted to get it over with.”

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Telepathy: Not just for skilled psychics!

It works for you, it works for me, it works for the janitor, the realtor, the homemaker and the financial planner down the street. It’s how you get in touch with someone you miss, or meet someone you have been hoping you won’t run into. Whether you want to connect with somebody or avoid him, it works. The key to it is focus.

I was set to go on concert tour to Poland with a group of singers but I was not all that enthusiastic about it for various reasons. It was about two days before departure and I was in a nasty mood, skulking through downtown Chicago on a last-minute shopping trip to buy some much-needed cosmetics. I thought it would be just my luck to run into Mark, a guy I didn’t really want to see, because he was so grown up and I was feeling very childish. My umbrella was misbehaving so I slammed it on the ground in a rage. I looked up and there stood Mark right in front of me.

“Hi, wassup?”

“Oh, nothing special. I have to go on concert tour to Poland in a couple days.”

“That’s great!”

“No it isn’t, I don’t want to go.”

“Then don’t go.”

Right. Stiff my fellow singers, waste the ticket money, acquire a reputation for being unreliable, become persona non grata, in that order. But thanks, Mark, for the advice.

As I got older I learned to focus on what I did want, rather than what I didn’t want.

I missed my friend Regina. I hadn’t seen or heard from her in over 10 years and her birthday was coming up. More than anything I just wanted to be able to wish her a happy birthday and tell her how much I missed her, but didn’t know how or where to find her. I looked her up on the Internet, no luck. Every search I did led to the same result: zip, zero, nada. I turned it over to my Spirit. As always, my Spirit came through. “Think of the song.” That was it.

Three decades earlier, Regina and I were in a Polish folk group. There was one song we did together that was a hit every time we sang it. “Regle, moje regle….” It was from the mountains of Podhale in the extreme south of Poland, and you could hear the echo when we sang together. She sang top and I sang bottom, and we blended like the Robert Shaw Chorale.

So I listened to my Spirit. “Regle, moje regle…” I imagined Regina and me singing. And in between phrases I sneaked in a “Happy Birthday, call me!”

A couple days later I got an e-mail from…you guessed it, Regina. She had looked me up on the Internet, and, since I was a semi-famous personality, she had been able to track me down.

And the subject line was “Regle, moje regle…” Just in time for her birthday. Happy Birthday, dearest Regina!

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Tale of Two Babies

These are true stories. They happened many years ago in my own family.

The Buddha

My mother had gotten pregnant for the third time. She wasn’t planning on it and had even been considering taking The Pill, which was very new and experimental at the time. She already had two children under five, and believe me, we were a handful. Money was tight. She was considering separating from our dad. Another baby was the last thing she needed, and, abortion being out of the question, she was stuck. She went into the bathroom where my brother and I couldn’t hear her, locked the door, held a thick towel over her mouth and screamed her head off.

In between screams she heard a knock on the door. She went to answer it and there stood a detective, holding a photo of a man. He asked my mom if she knew the man or had ever seen him. She didn’t and hadn’t, and the detective noticed that she seemed distraught. “Is everything all right?” he asked. My mom spilled the entire story, about how she was afraid she was pregnant, how was she going to support three kids when we barely had enough money to feed and clothe two, how she and my dad were contemplating divorce. Somehow the detective calmed her down and convinced her to wash her face, dress the kids and take them for a walk. It’s my belief that the spirit of her unborn child guided a kindly officer to our house to assure her that everything would work out in the end.

Months later, the baby was born. Mom called us from the hospital to say we had a new brother. “You could name him Juan,” I ventured helpfully. (We lived in a Puerto Rican neighborhood.) One day, while Mom was waiting for the diaper service the doorbell rang. She answered it, expecting to see the diaper truck, but there stood the detective from months ago. “You weren’t really pregnant, were you?” That kind man had tracked my mom down just to make sure she was OK.

My brother John and I loved the new baby, especially at first. My parents patched up their marriage and things got normal. “I want to sit next to the baby,” I would announce at dinner. “No, I want to sit next to the baby,” argued John. “It’s my turn, you sat next to the baby yesterday.” The baby was like a toy, only more fun. It squirmed. It had a tongue and cheeks and fingers and hair. I called it The Buddha. After a while “it” became “him”, a whiny, bratty but curious, interesting and cute little kid. “Here’s a nickel,” I would say to John, “now hold him down so I can kiss him.” How I ever made it through eighth grade without The Buddha murdering me is one of the mysteries of the Universe.

What the Heck...

A relative’s birth control failed and she got pregnant right as Roe v. Wade was enacted. She and her husband already had had four children between themselves and weren’t exactly jonesing for more. My relative, let’s call her Mary Beth, and her husband, let’s call him Franko, decided that they would drive to the abortion clinic in a neighboring state, since abortion was not yet legal in the state in which they lived. More than halfway there, they heard on the radio that “the police had raided the clinic the night before and all operations had been shut down,” a casualty of the squeamishness of 1970’s America.

Mary Beth and Franko pulled into a gas station to discuss the matter between themselves and a hitchhiker they’d picked up. He proved to be an objective listener, as Mary Beth wanted to keep the baby and Franko didn’t. With the hitchhiker there, they were able to keep the argument civil. “The heck with it,” Franko capitulated. “Let’s just have the baby.”

They had a sweet, cute, intelligent little boy and both parents adored him. I was his main babysitter. I was “young and irresponsible” and I taught him his first swear word. I took him to Chinatown and to the beach and to art fairs. We went trick or treating together with a gang of neighborhood children. It sounds pathetic, but for a few years that little boy was my best friend.

The writer of this blog happens to be pro-choice, so you won’t read, “I’m so glad that abortion clinic was shuttered,” or “If abortion had been legal I might never have had my little brother!” Pro-choice means the woman makes her own decision to have the baby or not, and it’s a choice she makes, not the government, not her family, not her boyfriend or husband. That the decisions to have the babies described above were imposed from without in no way alters my stance, because I believe our spirits guide us to make choices or accept circumstances that our egos are not always aware of.

Humor me for just a paragraph and entertain the concept that we are not just flesh, but spirit. When a spirit wants to come to earth to experience a certain environment, it will find a way, one that resonates with the mother-to-be, the parents or the situation. Both babies described above are now upstanding, kind, conscientious adults contributing to their families, to society and to the good vibes that are pulsating around the planet. I believe that they are angels sent by the I Am, All-That-Is, God, or whatever you choose to call the One Great Spirit. That the circumstances prior to birth were not particularly supportive is a testament to my strong belief that their souls found a way to overcome the obstacles and join us among the living.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Want it? Attract it.

For the past couple years or so there has been an increase in piracy, especially off the coast of the Horn of Africa. For the past couple years or so, at least in the USA, there has been an aura of romance around pirates in general, not the least of the manifestations of such romance being the hit movie Pirates of the Caribbean. There is also “National Talk Like a Pirate Day”. What a crock.

Wake up, America! Pirates are nothing more than the terrorists of yesteryear. In 200 years we might be romanticizing Osama bin Laden, Ramzi al Yousef or Mohammed Atta. That is, if we really want to bring that energy back to life. Do we believe pirates are a warm and fuzzy way to face our fears about terrorism because they belong to some bygone era? I don’t think Richard Phillips, the Captain of the Maersk Alabama, who is currently in the captivity of Somali pirates, is drooling over the romance and excitement of piracy. He is a true hero, having offered himself to the pirates to save his crew, but it would have been much better all around if the pirates had not materialized in the first place.

Metaphysical law states that what you concentrate on is what you get. It’s the Law of Attraction described in books such as The Secret by Rhonda Byrne, Ask And You Shall Receive by Esther and Jerry Hicks and The Nature of Personal Reality by Jane Roberts. That law works for world events just as it does in our own personal lives. When a nation concentrates on a specific issue, such as financial collapse, piracy, green energy sources, or revitalizing its cities, that is what is going to show up. The good news is that whenever two or more are gathered to focus on positive energy, it will materialize. (It’s in the Bible, folks!) And this does not preclude individual prayer to attract more positive events. If you’re alone, pray anyway.

Concentrating on eradicating piracy just brings more piracy. The “War on Drugs” creates more drugs. But concentrating on ships getting safely to their destination and distributing food or goods to people in need will result in exactly that. Focusing on people leading healthy lives or legalizing/decriminalizing/taxing drugs takes away the drama of the drug energy, not to mention the incentive for criminals to deal in them. Mother Teresa had the right idea. She stated she would never attend an anti-war rally, but if anyone held a peace rally, she’d be there. I’m with her.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Good Friday Tale

Does the name Hans Wurman mean anything to you? If you have ever heard the sound of a synthesizer, it should. He was an arranger and composer who pioneered the Moog Synthesizer by being the first serious artist to record on it in the late 1960’s. He was also one of my very favorite college professors. He had a sardonic sense of humor and we got along wonderfully at the American Conservatory of Music where he taught for a number of years.

One day he wrote an ascending perfect fourth on the blackboard and before he could continue on to the next note I shouted out, “O Sacred Head!” He gave me an exasperated look and said, “Well, why don’t you just teach the class.” But we understood each other, and I knew he was pleased that I had read his mind.

More than 13 years after I graduated from the American Conservatory I was driving home from a job. It was afternoon, and at that particular time of day I tried to avoid the local classical station because I could not abide the announcer’s voice. But my Spirit said, “Listen.” So I tuned the radio to “Chicago’s Classical Experience” and heard what sounded suspiciously like a Moog Synthesizer. I wondered feverishly what Dr. Wurman was doing at the time, how he was, and thought that he must be getting very old by now. After the piece was over, the announcer informed the audience that it was Hans Wurman, who had just passed away, playing the Moog Synthesizer. I thought, well, that answers that question. I sent Dr. Wurman a special blessing from my Spirit.

As I parked the car, I thought about the idea that when you find a penny, it means somebody is thinking about you. I wondered if Dr. Wurman had caught my blessing. I got out of the car, looked down and there was a penny lying on the ground. I picked it up thinking, “Thanks for settling that issue, Dr. Wurman!”

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Going to Slovakia

The worst summer of my life was 1990. I had recently been dumped by a long-term boyfriend. I was bored. The school year had ended and I was missing the kids from my choir. My band had no upcoming gigs. A sexy guy yelled at me. Nothing was going right and, even though I had all my arms and legs and wasn’t languishing in a hospital bed, I was miserable. I would go to sleep each night wishing I could wake up dead. And in the middle of it all was this nagging voice that kept saying, “Go to Czechoslovakia.”

I shushed that voice, but it came back over and over. In the fall I enrolled in a Slovak language course and one of the other students brought a list of people running tours to Czechoslovakia (for all you nitpickers, it was still Czechoslovakia), and specifically to the Slovak part of the country. I filed it in a folder and forgot about it until one day at work when I had finished all my tasks and was sitting there bored. I pulled out the folder and thought, I’m going to close my eyes and stick my finger on the page, and whomever it lands on, I’m going to write them a note asking about their tour to Slovakia. When I saw the name my finger was on, which was Helene Cincebeaux, I thought, no way! The name was French, not remotely Slovak, but then I heard my Spirit say, “Write to her.” So I wrote to Helene, telling her that I was very interested in Slovak folk music and if her tour included any concerts of cimbalom bands or folk festivals I might consider going.

A couple weeks later I got an 8-page letter from her, inviting me to travel with her and her mother for six weeks and then join the two-week tour. She promised to introduce me to the musicians I had been slobbering over for years and that we would attend at least three folk festivals. I was ecstatic!

Helene turned out to be Moravian Slovak, and she and her mother Helen were wonderful to travel with. She was as good as her word, and better. I met all the musicians whose recordings I had been listening to for the past 10 years, we attended four folk festivals, and I sat there with my little Sony tape recorder and my music notebook sucking up the culture like a vacuum cleaner. I made new friends. I came home with dozens of songs and recordings.

An unexpected by-product of the trip was that I learned to speak Slovak fluently. It took about two weeks. I already spoke Polish, and one day at the market square in Piešťany, a city in Western Slovakia, a gentleman approached me speaking Polish. I thought, “What a relief! Now I can speak in a language I really know,” but every word came out Slovak. If you had put a gun to my head, I could not speak Polish!

If this story has a moral, it’s listen to your Spirit. It will always steer you in the right direction, and it knows more than your ego.

What Goes Around...

I was riding the Austin Ave. bus southbound through a rough neighborhood. I picked up a dollar bill that was lying on the floor of the bus and pocketed it. Then I overheard some kids talking about losing a dollar. I looked at the dollar I had picked up. It was a Silver Certificate. I brought it to the bus driver and told him I found it on the floor. At the next stop he asked if anyone had lost a dollar. The kids claimed it. I heard one say to another excitedly, “That dollar’s worth five dollars!”

I really wanted it, but it wasn’t mine.

A few days later I was at a restaurant with a bunch of friends. We had all paid the tab and I was to get $5 back. I took a $5 bill lying on top of the plate of change. It was a Silver Certificate.

And it was all mine.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Keep Obama Away From Notre Dame!

There’s been a lot of hoop-de-do in the upper echelons of the Catholic hierarchy regarding President Barack Obama speaking at the University of Notre Dame’s commencement.

They don’t like it.

Let me reconstruct a conversation that may have taken place between Pope Benedict and Cardinal Francis George as they plotted their hissy fit.

Pope: Fran, baby! How ya doin’, Schatzie? Let’s get Die Amerikanischer riled up about zis Obama speech, ja?

Cardinal: Yes indeed, Your Holiness. The main thing we must address is that Obama supports killing babies in order to improve the lives of the…ugh…already born. It is a disgrace that a Catholic university would even consider inviting him to speak at commencement. Now if Notre Dame had invited George W. Bush we wouldn't be having this conversation in the first place, but...

P: Ja, ja, das ist so. But how do ve sell zis idea to the public?

C: Well, first of all, we must impart the notion that only practicing Catholics should be allowed to express opinions at a Catholic university.

P: Ja, das ist gut. Keep ze religion pure, ja!

C: Second, to make sure this idea sticks, we seize on something that everybody likes to do, except us, which is have sex. But we can’t actually use the word sex, because then our agenda would be too obvious. So we grab a hook, and that hook is abortion. Even though Obama has never had one himself, we can use his support of those trollops who do have them to get our fellow puritans excited.

P: I like! Und please to go on.

C: Third, and very crucial, we must bury Obama’s agenda of social justice, compassion and equality. The real Jesus scholars get hold of that one and we’re in the deep toilet swimming with Satan himself. So we keep hammering, sex, sex, sex. Makes me want to vomit personally, no, I’m not thinking about sex, I’m not thinking about it, I’m not (slaps own face), but the public will relate.

P: Schatzie, I think you have some impure thoughts. See you in ze confession booth.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Another Phony Ploy!

Here’s a new, predictable discovery by the Cynic-At-Large. A certain Chicago Sunday newspaper has traditionally carried the poor-man’s version of TV Guide, i.e. a grid listing the various channels and what will be broadcast at what time. For the past two weeks, the front page of the section has blared:

ATTENTION READERS: Beginning April 4, The Guide will be moving to Saturdays. This move was designed to give you more time to plan your TV viewing, and it allows us to provide more up-to-date listings.

Following that proclamation was a gentle prod to subscribe to the Saturday edition of the paper.

The Cynic-At-Large has a word for this kind of ploy. Bull.

What genius thought up that plan, and, given the usual dismal state of Saturday paper sales, what took so long?

The Cynic-At-Large will hereby piece together the scenario that led to this move.

Dear Reader: We’re conducting a short survey. If you fill out and submit this survey you will be entered into a drawing to win 40,000 lbs of hot, compressed air, donated by our local politicians.

Q: What section do you turn to first when reading the paper?
A: The TV listings.

Q: If you subscribe to or purchase the Sunday paper, what section are you liable to keep all week?
A: The TV listings.

Q: Is there any section of the paper that, if it were discontinued, would constitute a “deal-breaker” and cause you to cancel your subscription?
A: The TV listings.

Q: Are there any days on which you do not traditionally buy the paper?
A: Saturday.

And here you have a passive-aggressive, backdoor recipe for boosting sales of the Saturday paper. Unless the reader, such as myself, does not watch TV regularly and couldn’t care less about what is broadcast at what time.

But nice try, anyway.

Friday, March 20, 2009

What REALLY Happened

The following story was considered for publication in a book but by the time it went through the necessary channels it had been so watered down and expurgated that there was nothing unique about it. I never got paid for the story as the publisher said I would, so I assume that it went into the “no, thank you” pile. The true story is infinitely cooler than their final version, and it should be told. What really happened was this.

One fine day in June I called the local children’s hospital and asked to do a 40-minute hammer dulcimer program for the kids. I didn’t want money and I wasn’t looking for glory. Several years earlier I had been a music teacher in a Catholic school and, since I left that job, I simply missed seeing children. I figured a hospital wasn’t going to say no to me and this would be the least rejection-prone way to satisfy my craving for some young blood. Naturally, the hospital was very gracious and said of course I could come and do a program, after I attended a training session. Hospitals are very cagey about what they do and don’t reveal about their patients and they also need to make sure all their volunteers are aware of possible etiquette pitfalls, such as calling a little girl “young man” or asking a 12-year old if he’s started kindergarten yet.

Once I was appropriately prepped to avoid any possible faux pas, I slathered on the usual three pounds of makeup, trussed myself up in a Slovak outfit, packed the dulcimer and headed for the hospital. This was at the time Chicago was accepting a large contingent of Bosnian war refugees and I wondered if there were any Bosnian children at the hospital because I wanted to try out a Bosnian song. There was only one. A single boy, in the ICU, who was not being treated for a war injury, but for something else. For the sake of privacy, I’ll call him Mujo. After a bit of hemming, hawing, intercom exchanges, and other back-and-forth, I was permitted to go to the ICU to see him. Leaving the dulcimer downstairs, I rushed up to say hello, and I sang him a song in Bosnian. He had an awestruck smile on his face, the kind of look that says, “An American woman who looks like a movie star is singing just for me in my language!”

Having gotten my “kid fix” I went home and resumed my life, but, inspired by that boy's smile, I was now determined to learn to speak Bosnian by hook or by crook.

Towards the end of that summer I had dipped my toe into an illicit relationship with a Bosnian refugee and then abruptly severed the budding liaison when I discovered he had a wife and daughter. Later that fall, I decided to follow a more wholesome path to learning Bosnian and I registered with a local Christian organization that provides English tutors for newly arrived refugees. After taking their training class and passing a background check they set me up with a family to tutor. They lived two miles from me in a rough, gang-infested neighborhood but I was ready to rock and roll. I asked if the family had any children and they said yes, there were two kids. I immediately went out and bought toys for them but then heard the voice of my Spirit say, “Slow down.” Since I had ignored the last warning it had given me – which was to stay away from that married Bosnian refugee – I owed it to my Spirit to listen and obey this time. I got out my cards and did a reading. Surprise, surprise. The cards indicated that “my” family was moving away and that I should not get attached.

The very next day, my supervisor Linda at the agency called to tell me, “I have some bad news for you. The family you were going to tutor is moving to Iowa. They left this morning. But we’ll get you a new family.”



An hour later she called again. “We have a new family for you!” As it turned out, they were not only walking distance from my house, but in a much safer neighborhood. I asked about children and was told there were two. Great, I could give the toys I had bought to those kids. I was set!

That evening Linda picked me up and took me to meet the family. She had spoken – firmly – to me about not using Bosnian with them, only English. It was as if she knew my ulterior motive and was making sure that my volunteering was all about them and not about me. The parents, Amela and Nijaz spoke almost no English. I gave the children the toys. They were thrilled, then shyly tried to give them back. I walked around the cramped but immaculate apartment teaching Amela the English words for common household items. Table. Spoon. Fork. Light. Wall. The dialogue lurched politely and tentatively. I was dying to jumpstart the conversation with a few words in Bosnian but Linda's stern presence put that fire out. No deal. Finally, Amela pulled out family pictures and we were off and running. As it turned out, Amela had learned a couple words in English that she could remember. “My mother.” “Husband.” “Sister.” And then she pulled out another picture. “Other son.”

It was Mujo, in his hospital bed.

“I know him! I know him!” I screamed. Defying the rules I cried out, “Bila sam u njega! Viđela sam ga! Pjevala sam!” “I was there! I saw him! I sang!” It took a few minutes but we sorted out the story and by the time I left two hours later, we weren’t student and tutor anymore, we were friends.

I worked with the family for several years until they bought a condo and moved to an even nicer neighborhood. I still visited occasionally and eventually Amela called to ask me to tutor her so she could pass the citizenship test. I was a hard-nosed teacher and drilled her like a machine. She passed. The family is doing well, their oldest son is married with a condo of his own and they are all American citizens now.

The Christian organization I tutored for solicited stories from its volunteers to submit for a collection called Chicken Soup for the Volunteer’s Soul and I sent in the above. They said it was the best one they had received but, in accordance with their evangelical agenda, this, that and the other had to go. They stripped the part about me listening to my Spirit. They scotched the card reading. All I was left with was a couple whitewashed coincidences and some bland, fuzzy platitudes. The publisher’s editor sweetened the story up further, and by the time you got done reading the final version, you needed a couple shots of insulin.

Despite the tame spin the kindly but prosaic Evangelicals put on my tale, it was my Spirit, gosh darn it, that led me to the hospital that sunny June day, it was my Spirit that communicated with me through the cards and it was my Spirit that guided me on the path to tutor that particular family. Spirit speaks like opportunity. It taps once, and gently. Whether you follow its advice or not is your call.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Lost Violin

Being psychic has many advantages, along with the obvious drawbacks, such as knowing which people don’t really like you and foreseeing that you’re going to have a bad experience at a gig but can’t do anything about it because you signed the contract. One advantage of being psychic is it helps you find things. Here is an example so dramatic and stark that it warrants a TV episode.

It was the late spring of 1994 and I was biking with my cousin Kelton in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood. It was hot, at least 88º and I was in an irritable mood. I suggested that we stop in a second hand dump of a thrift store, just to get out of the heat for a few minutes. We dragged ourselves in. Kelton looked at the clothes and shoes, I stared apathetically at the books. There was only one book that I had been keeping an eye out for over the past couple years, a children’s story by Clara Ingram Judson called The Lost Violin about a Czech family in Chicago, circa 1900. It had been published in the 1940’s and was out of print. I was about to turn away and tell Kelton, “Let’s get out of here,” when I heard the voice of my Spirit. It told me to look behind the book in front of me “because The Lost Violin might be there.” I pulled out the book, and staring me in the face was that Lost Violin!

What happened next was one of the most brainless manipulations of reality in my entire psychic repertoire. All I wanted was to go home, take a shower, lie down and read my new book. Kelton and I had discussed going to a neighborhood restaurant, The Daily Bar and Grill, but I didn’t want to. I pulled a dimwitted unconscious psychic trick, thinking vaguely, “If I get hurt, maybe I won’t have to go to the Daily.” On the way back I rode up against a hose and fell off my bike, cutting a huge gash in my shin and badly skinning my knee. A snot-nosed, overweight pre-teen boy was casually slurping water out of the hose. I shoved my injured leg in his face and asked, “Do you mind if I use your hose to wash off my blood?” He blanched and backed away.

The worst part was now I had to prove to myself and my cousin that I didn’t wipe out on purpose so I said to Kelton, “OK, let’s go to the Daily. But you walk in front of me so they won’t see all my blood.” (This was in the days of AIDS hysteria.) So we did indeed go to the Daily. I ordered an artichoke and looked into the heart. The heart looked back and said, “You used your gift twice today. Once wisely, and once un.”

Rat Alley Redux

When I was in kindergarten my family, which was on the poor side, lived in the attic of my grandma’s house at 2238 N. Orchard St., Chicago. Don’t look for it. The house burned down and it’s condos now. Although I didn’t realize it, being poor had advantages, such as you could get away with picking garbage, you got free shots at the Welfare clinic and you were never required to go to those boring country club dinners. Since I didn’t know what a country club was and I didn’t like getting shots it was the easy accessibility to garbage that I appreciated, and it provided me with hours of fun and games.

One fine day I spied a handbag in the alley. This was the “Rat Alley” called Pearl Court, described in a previous post. I grabbed that handbag and took off down Pearl Court, looking for more treasure. To my surprise and excitement, this was the weekend that all the neighborhood dames had conspired to toss their purses. There was a bag at nearly every garbage station! I took only the ones with jewels, sequins and other crud attached. Plain brown bags and staid totes languished, unloved and unwanted. I returned to Grandma’s house will a haul of about 10 handbags, all fancy and dressed up for the ball.

It took me a while to decide what to do with them, but I eventually had a brainstorm. I got a big jar, filled it with water and proceeded to hack off all the jewels on each handbag. I put them into the jar with the water. Imagine, if you will, a tiny 5-year-old imp with black hair and blue eyes sitting alone at a huge dining room table, staring at all that junk floating in the jar and thinking, “This is the happiest day of my life!”